Jul 5, 2014

National Day Parade 2014 Flypast: Behind the Afterburner

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Less than 10 seconds. 

That's all it takes, but it's enough to make everyone tilt their head upwards to the sky and look in awe. Covering of ears is optional.

Always a regular fixture for many editions of the National Day Parade (NDP), the 'A Salute to the Nation' flypast routine by F-15SG fighter jets has no doubt been a firm favourite of many.

But have you ever wondered the amount of hard work and preparation that goes into a flypast that lasts merely less than a 100m sprint? I did, which probably explained my joy in having the chance to go behind the scenes at Paya Lebar Air Base - home to Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) 149 SQN - to get a first-hand understanding of the immense preparations that the pilots undertake, as well as the thrill of witnessing the fighter jets take-off for last Saturday’s NDP combined rehearsal session.

Courtesy of Republic of Singapore Air Force, MINDEF

To the spectators on the ground, the fighter jets always appear to be in a flawless formation and spaced far apart. But did you know that they are in fact separated, wing-tip to wing-tip, by a heart-stopping distance of only just 0.9 metres???

Flying over Marina Bay at such high speeds and close proximity to each other, and still having to maintain the flight formation throughout, it is no wonder that nothing is left to chance.

Commanding Officer MAJ Nick Wong, who leads the display team, shared with us some of the major challenges the crew faced. Getting the timing right to the precise last millisecond is crucial and essential in having the execution of the Flypast done right. But given that delays may occur during the actual NDP - like the President taking a few extra seconds to wave to the spectators - the pilots need to make on-the-spot decisions and calculations while circling in the holding spot to respond to the changes in timing.

To achieve the 'wow' supersonic boom that thrills spectators, the jets' afterburners are deployed during the Flypast. Again, this poses a challenge to the pilots as the increase in thrust caused by the afterburners makes it even tougher for the jets to adhere to the formation lineup.

The photo above depicts a practice session 2 weeks ago and shows that Jet #5 is slightly out of position. Three seconds is one split second too many in a display of precision, and so trust the pilots to fine tune every single aspect of their routine come 9 August!

After the briefing, it was time for some action and for that, we got the chance to see the pilots kit up in preparation for their takeoff.

The entire kit that the crew piles on weighs a staggering 15kg! But it is absolutely necessary as the suit includes an anti-G suit which counters the effects of the G-Forces experienced by the crew during flight.

In total, 12 aircrew - six Pilots and six Weapon Systems Officer (Fighter) - participates in the Flypast. Yes, six aircrafts, even though the actual Flypast consists of five jets. The sixth jet serves as a backup, always ready to take over should any one of the other five jets require to abort its flight in mid-air.

Then the fun part began, as we were brought to the weather shed to witness the pre-flight inspection and start-up routine for the F-15SG aircraft.

With a display of this magnitude, stringent pre-flight checks by both the Air Crew and Flight Line Crew is both essential and critical.

The 149 SQN Flight Line Crew consists of Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) and Regular Air Force Engineers. They perform inspections and maintenance on the aircraft before and after flights. It is through theirdedicated efforts that the aircraft are maintained in tip-top condition for optimal flying performance, every time.

And then, it was time to ignite the engine and prepare for take off...

But not before inserting our ear plugs!

Courtesy of Republic of Singapore Air Force, MINDEF
Courtesy of Republic of Singapore Air Force, MINDEF

I certainly gained a better understanding of the herculean preparation and work that goes into the Flypast segment. It was very insightful and inspiring to have the opportunity to speak with some of the pilots too - their perspiration and passion that goes into wanting to put up a fantastic show for the Nation, never mind that it only lasts for a few seconds, is truly commendable.

So if you are at the Floating Platform this NDP, be sure to catch the F-15SGs streaking across Marina Bay and feel their thundering roar!

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